“My point is that international illegal fishing can be fought by international cooperation only,” the often-awarded Swedish investigative journalist Fredrik Laurin told his audience of Russian colleagues.
He was one of two Swedish keynote speakers at SCOOP Russia’s first ever conference on investigative journalism held in Russia 9-10 December 2016. The conference is probably the biggest such event held ever in North West Russia.
His point goes for any fishy business that journalists in different countries try to reveal. Fredrik Laurin suggested more international cooperation for the 50 Russian journalists from Northwest Russia who spent two days in Pushkin, just outside Saint Petersburg, to learn more tips and techniques for their work. A majority of the participants came from regions far away from Russias second biggest city Saint Petersburg.
Fredrik Laurins example of illegal fishing was twelve years old. Nevertheless it was relevant, because it was made possible only with help from Russian journalists in Murmansk.
Investigate – and come back later
Another point of Fredrik Laurin was that journalism matters. The investigation on illegal fishing, aired by Swedish TV4 Kalla Fakta, changed the rules on fishing in the European Union. It also embarrassed Scandinavian companies claiming to sell only ethically caught fish, while Fredrik Laurin and his partners Sven Bergman and Joachim Dyfvermark could show this was not true.
“Now it would be time to make the same investigation again, to find out if illegally caught cod is being sold to the market today as it was then,” he said.
He also gave examples of more recent investigations having big impact: The investigation on Telia Sonera’s murky cooperation with security services in non-democratic countries such as Uzbekistan and Belarus forced the company to pay a very expensive fine in the United States, the leaders of Telia Sonera lost their jobs and the board has put all their daughter companies in Eurasia on the sell-out list.
The third example was Panama Papers where he cooperated with Russian colleagues among others and where Sven Bergman in cooperation with the Icelandic colleague Johannes Kr. Kristjansson, made the interview forcing Iceland’s prime minister to resign.
Both Telia Sonera and Panama Papers were published in the Swedish television program Uppdrag Granskning, a flagship of investigative journalism not only in Sweden but also world wide.
The Editor-in-Chief of Uppdrag Granskning, Nils Hanson, outlined a number of tips that can be practised by any investigative journalist. The use of line-by-line fact check and an in-house Devil’s advocate, are two of the principles helping Uppdrag Granskning to avoid errors in their investigations.
It can be done in Russia
After the first day’s examples from Sweden, some of the Russian journalists claimed that it is much easier making investigations in Sweden, but almost impossible in Russia.
Even if this remark contains a lot of truth, the speakers of the second day showed that a lot can be done also in Russia.
Aleksandr Gorshkow, from Azjur and Fontanka, shared his local experience from Saint Petersburg.
He was followed by three very good examples of investigative journalism pieces presented by participants in SCOOP Russia.
First Aleksey Semyonov presented the investigation he and his colleagues on Pskovskaya Gubernia made regarding dead Russian soldiers, returning from the allegedly non-existing war in Ukraine. Their work has been big news in the worlds biggest media.
Next was Svetlana Zobova from Saint Petersburg who has examined why the football club Zenit’s new stadion has not been built yet.
The final example was Roman Romanovskiy from Kaliningrad, who sent the claimed cleaned waste water from the regions waste water treatment facilities on analysis, and found it as dirty as the waste water pumped into the buildings. This year he has repeated his investigation to see what has happened. The result will be published locally in local media in Kaliningrad.
Biggest IJ event in many years
The closing speech was held by Anna Sharogradskaya, director of the Regional Press Institute, arranging the conference in cooperation with the Russian coordinators of SCOOP Russia and Scandinavian colleagues.
The opening speech was held by SCOOP Russia’s Project Coordinator Börge Nilsson, representing the Swedish and Danish associations for investigative reporting, FGJ and FUJ.
“I am very impressed. This is, as far as I understand, the biggest event of its kind taken place in this part of Russia for many years — if not ever”, Börge Nilsson says.